March 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
My pressing concern at the moment is air bubbles in the clay. It has always been an issue on and off since I started to learn how to throw but having thought I’d remedied the matter it seems to have returned with a vengeance.
There are three possible causes, I think (although there may well be a multitude more…). The first is kneading; the second is related to coning up and down causing spirals to form; and the third is the way I insert my finger to create the initial hole before opening up the clay.
I use the ‘bull’s head’ method of kneading. I’ve tried to spiral knead but I know that when I do I am not kneading the clay properly, which does definitely result in air pockets, and plenty of them. I seem to create a hole at the apex of the spiral around which the clay is turning. The ‘bull’s head’ method seems to work fine; I knead it maybe a hundred times and afterwards it appears to be consistent, smooth and bubble-free.
I have tried different methods of creating the initial hole from one thumb, two thumbs, one finger inserted to create a ‘v’ shape, one finger with the thumb of my other hand adjacent to it… I haven’t stuck with one way because I have been unsettled by the issue with the air bubbles. But I don’t think that the way I am opening up the hole is causing the bubbles.
My suspicion is that the problem lies with the coning up and down. It feels to me when I’m throwing like this is when they happen. Something is happening inside the clay as it is going up and down that is causing the bubbles to form. Sometimes the top of the centred clay when I put my fingers into it is too soft, it gives too easily. When I push with my finger, the air bubbles appear and, I think, as I push I take the air bubbles down into the clay, resulting in them being all down the inside wall. There are sometimes air bubbles on the outside, too, which, I think, is because when I cone down sometimes an air pocket gets trapped on the outside. I’ve tried and tried to remedy the problem, trying to be extremely conscientious when coning up and down, making sure I am concentrating the clay in the centre of the wheelhead. Whatever I do I can’t seem to resolve the problem and it is incredibly frustrating. There are tutorials galore on youtube about every conceivable issue relating to throwing but nothing mentioning air bubbles, so I am wondering whether this is not generally a problem. I’d be a happy man, though, if I could find a way to bubble-free clay…
March 19, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last Friday, I was in London and had a couple of hours to spare, so hot-footed it over to the V&A and to the ceramics collection on the sixth floor. I went with the specific intention of looking at the wall thickness of pots, in general, and bowl shapes, in particular. If you haven’t been, and can get to London, it is the most amazing resource, although I would like to see the work of more contemporary potters represented. While I was there I discovered that Louisa Taylor is the artist-in-residence (until 24th July); I would liked to have spoken with her but, unfortunately, she wasn’t in her studio.
My reason for wanting to investigate wall thicknesses was because of an anecdote that Jim Malone told in the Goldmark video (in the ‘Video’ links on the right) about weight. He recounted how at college all the potters seemed to be obsessed by how much a pot weighed. He believed this to be a legacy from all the industrial pots, which were ‘thin and light and white’. He read somewhere about an exhibition Hamada had and his friend, Yanagi, picked up one of his pots and said that he thought it was heavy. Hamada replied, ‘better too heavy than too light’.
The question I have been asking myself is, ‘what is too heavy?’
The other thing I was looking at was bowl shape. I love the eastern aesthetic – simple, minimal adornment (incision, fluting), beautiful lines. Every bowl had a foot-ring, however small the bowl or the ring; the colours understated; the lines so clean, creating elegant profiles.
These are total simplicity, the absolute essence of a bowl – there is nothing that could be taken away.
March 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
The March/April issue of the Northern Potters’ Association newsletter came out this week. It’s a great newsletter full of salient pottery-related information and opinion. They were kind enough to include an article I’d written and I’ve copied it below:
Art has never been useful. Apparently, for its purposes, US customs defines an art object as something that is ‘utterly useless’, or words to that effect. And this has always been my problem with it. I am now in the process of learning to become a potter, but I spent a dozen years floating around the world of Fine Art. I completed an M.A. in sculpture in 1998, towards the end of which I was making video installations. I believed the work I was making to be beautiful and poetic, painterly – framing real objects, such as the wooden frame of a window or the flame of a candle, in extreme close-up to create abstract or semi-abstract images.
The appreciation of art is, primarily, an intellectual experience. There is a bodily engagement with a work of art, of course, especially in relation to scale and the space before or around the work, but, essentially, it is engaged with through the eyes. Rarely do you touch it. Generally, you are positively dissuaded from any form of contact. You stand back and admire, or not; analyse; cogitate. Above all, you intellectualise, creating space between you and the object in order to do so. As an artist, the creation of the work is usually a physical one, the making of something three dimensional to be displayed. As a spectator, the experience is at one remove. This, for me, was, and is, a problem.
Recently, I discovered that the answer lay in the fingertips. I hadn’t understood that what I saw as this barrier between me and the appreciation of an artwork was a barrier to me making the work of art itself. I wanted to make objects that were part of people’s ordinary, everyday lives, that were still beautiful and poetic but where you didn’t need a special education in order to feel able to understand them. I wanted to make objects that combine all the aesthetic considerations of a painter or a sculptor and marry them to function, creating pots that were useful, relevant, enhancing to everyday life.
I don’t want to be a Fine Art potter. I want to make simple, functional tableware; repeat ware; containers; vessels; objects concerned with the very basics of human life. One of the most beautiful objects that I can imagine is a yunomi by Phil Rogers: the colour of the glaze, the weight, texture of its surface, the feel of it between your fingers, the touch of it on your lips. This is beauty that must grow with you, with use; an understanding of its character that will develop with time spent in the palms of your hands. This is an object that has relevance to your daily life, that affects you on a daily basis, that nourishes your soul.
Yunomi by Phil Rogers
(image courtesy of the artist)
I have been teaching myself to throw for a year now in a small workshop in my cellar. Through adult education, youtube tutorials, books, the handling of well-made pots, and many mistakes and some successes, I am developing my skills at the wheel and my knowledge of a pottery business. My goal is to make, as Michael Cardew described in an essay, pots that are ‘well designed, good to look at and to handle and to live with, not too much more expensive than those produced in the “factory system”, and above all, alive (whatever we mean by that)’.
March 8, 2012 § Leave a comment